Band-Aid Fixes are Bad

Does it take too long to complete your processes?  Do your supervisors fail to follow the procedures?  Do you feel like you have a never-ending list of problems to address?  Many managers face these issues and believe they have no choice but to work the problems as they occur and try to keep their heads above water.

One would probably guess this article is about time-management or strategic planning, but this article is really about finding full spectrum solutions for your organization.  This is also not about root causes.  Root causes are essential and are a part of full spectrum solutions, but the critical difference is that a root cause does not always affect other processes, but a full spectrum solution does.  These solutions will enable and eventually empower your people to solve the other issues that arise, leaving you time to dedicate to more strategic issues.

We all get caught up in the most recent issue.  The most recent problem is the “most important” issue because it is fresh.  A good manager will not automatically react to every problem as if it must be fixed right away.  A good manager will know there are many problems and just because this problem happened now, does not mean it is the more important problem to direct the focus.  This is reactive problem-solving.  It is not always a bad approach, but it is not usually the best.

How does one identify a full spectrum solution?  Mostly by what will happen if the solution is found and implemented.  For example, if there is a problem with a report not being completed correctly, but you have already provided training, and they just don’t seem to get it.  The initial solution would be to hold more training and perhaps start writing people up for accountability purposes.  But a full spectrum solution that will help with this problem would be to invest in the supervisors and help develop them into problem solvers.  This solution takes much more time and will require patience from the manager and their boss.

Another issue we must face is the expectation for instant results.  Most solutions take time, and nothing will ever be perfect.  So, guard against working only for short-term and immediate results.  This is called making a band-aid fix.  The problem with this kind of fix is the actual issue is never addressed.  A band-aid is placed on it for short-term success but the issue will continue to come back.

Here are a few places that are typically associated with full spectrum solutions:

Training programs

Supervisory development (leadership & management)

Equipment upgrades

Look for solutions that will have 2nd and 3rd order of effects


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What Comes First?

You are a Manager/Leader of Lies and Lip service and your employees know it! Just take a look at your structure and the lines of effort that come out of that structure.

Many organizations have a structure that supports the development of professional or technical skills. Most of the time this takes place upon initially hiring an employee and is sustained by on-the-job training and measured by supervisors. They also have a Human resources department that takes care of the mundane tasks of who is where what needs to be tracked and when John will hit retirement age. They also track and take care of specific training requirements, such as who needs and has completed Human Relations training. Maybe some will have a Talent Management division who endeavor to put the right people in the right place at the right time or delve into recruitment, but after the placement or replacement is complete, it is up to work centers to deal with the employee.

Human resources? Human Capital? Human Beings! People, Your People…

How much time do you spend on your processes? How much time do you spend on production meetings, operations, how high, how far or whatever your business is? I’ll call them functional competencies.

How much time do you spend on your people? People/Human competencies. What do you measure as a leader? How would you know if your organization was successful in this area? What do you expect your first line supervisors to do as it relates to People competencies? Know their names, birthdays, personal goals and desires?

You will do what is important to you, not what you say!

In the military, many organizations have a phrase that tries to keep leaders in remembrance of this balance between the function and people. “Mission First, People Always!” or sometimes it is said in reverse. For the most part, it is a good phrase, but I have found in my experience that in most organizations there is almost zero focus on the People. I have been in fantastic organizations where we spent a lot of time on the people, and the Mission of the unit (function) excelled. I would state the phrase this way “People First to First Achieve Mission Success. A lot can be learned from this.

As Senior Managers and leaders in an organization, we have to begin to understand that our best asset is our Human resource. We should strive to create a desire within our people to want to please their first line supervisors by their duty performance. I want my people to want to work for me, not because I am the boss, but because they know I care about them and their development as people. I have a desire to help them achieve their personal goals, even if those goals take them away from my company! Leaders at each level of the organization need to spend time developing functional competencies and human competencies. In most cases, each organization has programs that pretend to get after the task of human competencies. They may even write policies, hold seminars or conduct development courses but it rarely resonates with the majority of employees. Most of them will view the Senior Manager/Leader as a blowhard that is only focused on production, money or your board of directors.

We need to measure our leaders in our organization with two sticks:

How good are they at function production?
– If they are bad at their jobs, it matters.
How good are they at people production?
– If they don’t have measurable factors here, they have no business leading/managing, anyone. Let them go! It is better to have a mediocre function producer and a high people producer than the reverse.

I will state it again: You will do what is important to you, not what you say! Your people will know it, and it will impact their performance. It will affect your bottom line.

Develop lines of effort to directly get after each member of your organization. Get to know them as people, what makes each one tick. Know their kids’ names. Give them a day off for their spouse’s birthday and consider it an investment to your bottom line. They matter and without them, your functional competencies will only get you so far.

Is Changing Your Mind Good Or Bad?

It’s Good.  That’s the answer.  There are always circumstances that will dictate whether there has been a positive or negative effect from changing your mind, but let’s look at this question from the general position of, should one be open to changing their mind.  And from this perspective, the answer is unequivocally yes!

In politics, this is called flip-flopping.  A term flung around like it’s a disease.  In real life, being open to the possibility that your initial position is wrong, takes much more strength than stubbornly grasping to that position.  Not to say this is an easy task.  Our decisions are based on many things that we don’t always understand, outside of some experts in the field.  Personally, I struggle with this as much as anyone, although as of late I have been making a deliberate attempt to get better at it.

What positive effect does changing your mind have?  The first thing it tells them is that you are willing to listen.  This is a vital skill for a leader.  The ability to listen to the people you lead and the humility to let them change your mind cannot be understated.  I’ve experienced situations from both sides of this problem and can tell you that feeling like your leaders are listening to you gives you a great sense of belonging, says you have a voice and encourages engagement from the team members.

Changing one’s mind must be tempered to ensure you don’t actually become a leader that can’t stick to a decision.  Going back and forth is detrimental any organization.  There should be a point that a decision has been made and the group moves on.  Then the decision can be readdressed later if the situation changes or the results of the last decision were not positive.

What negative effect does changing your mind have?  I previously had a boss that had zero original ideas and never made a decision until he could get some sort of consensus.  His decision-making capabilities don’t sound so bad as I type it, but trust me; he was a “go with the popular opinion” type of boss.  There were so many occasions where a person would have a conversation with him, and there would be an agreement only to find out they changed their mind after talking to someone else.  It was almost a game to try to be the last one to talk to him before the decision had to be made.

Be wary of phrases like ‘That’s the way we have always done it’ or ‘We tried that before, and it didn’t work.’  These are indicators that the culture of your organization does not embrace change.  Which probably means your leaders are not open to changing their minds.  It’s time to have these kinds of conversations in our workplace and show how being open to new options and changing a decision does not automatically translate to a negative.

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They Quit…but Never Leave!

He is the guy that does just enough not to get fired.  Perhaps he used to be motivated, maybe even a top performer at one point in time.  But now he just can’t be bothered.  He rarely has ideas and is usually only passionate about not changing (anything) and making sure he is not inconvenienced with the job.  Mostly, they have quit without leaving the job.  How do managers deal with these people?  What kinds of things can you do to help bring them back?  Or perhaps get them actually to leave?

Engage and inspire them.  A leader needs to understand their people.  What drives them and makes them want to work hard?  It sounds like standard advice, but to be honest, you probably don’t have the capacity to understand and engage all of your people on an individual level enough to engage and inspire them.  What you do have time for is some of them.  The focus should be on your high performers and those you feel you can move into the high performing category.  Those people like the guy described above should not be the main priority.  As the leader/manager, you should be removing obstacles from your team.  It is in this capacity that you will need to deal with the poor performers.

Accountability is key.  Opportunity is also key.  Mostly we describe opportunity as the opportunity for success, but there is an equal chance for failure at every opportunity.  When an employee has quit, we need to engage and see if we can get them back on the team and performing at a high level.  If you can’t, give them opportunities.  Then hold them accountable when they don’t perform to the standard. You have to give them a final chance to show what they can do.  This, of course, assumes that you have effectively communicated to them about their performance and what the standard is.

What if you don’t have the authority to fire?  This certainly complicates things, but only means you now have to convince the person or persons who have firing authority to take action.  This is normally pretty simple.  Document the performance along with any failures to meet standards, and before long the HR department or other supervisors/managers will have to take action.  A big point to include when dealing with this situation is that having employees like this can be detrimental to the culture of the organization, especially if these employees are charismatic and influential.

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Dependent or Empowered Followers

Dependent and empower followers is leadership at two different levels.  The beginning level is where dependent followers thrive.  That first step of leadership is creating followers that are dependent on guidance.  The dependent follower is also at the start of their management and leadership journey.  The first level leader and dependent follower complement each other, they both fulfill the needs of the other.  The first level leader needs people that need them.  They need to experiment together and grow.  Many leaders do not graduate to the next level of leadership.  Some of this is because they’re trying to move to the next level.  They are most likely not even aware they are at the beginning level of leadership and are not deliberately trying to proceed to the higher levels.

The second level of leadership is where the leader begins to realize that dependent followers can be limiting.  This second level of leadership can be evasive as well because a follower that is becoming a leader already will give the leader the illusion that they are in the second level of leadership, but it immediately disappears when this follower moves on to be their own leader.  The second level of leadership is about removing the chains that keep the follower tied to the leader by empowering them.  Cutting the chains and letting them make decisions, run operations, experiment in their own leadership capacity, and learn from mistakes.

What can stop a leader from moving to the second level?  Many things, but mostly ego and pride!  When a leader refuses to let go of power (regardless of the type of power) it traps them in the first level.  The reasons are all the same.  They aren’t ready to lead.  I can’t trust them to do the right thing.  More often than not, the problem is the leader.  They want to feel important, and when you have empowered followers, they need you less and less.  The crazy part is that is a great thing!  Having followers that can perform at a high level because you trained and mentored them should be the goal.  How much more time will you have to grow as a leader and develop better ways to improve your surroundings when you no longer have to always direct your subordinates every move?

My position in the organization is one of constant rotation.  I am constantly faced with new managers and inexperienced managers.  Or managers that have resigned themselves to be micromanagers because they have never known a leader than empowers followers.  Once they trust me and know it isn’t a trick, they flourish like never before.


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Deliberate Trust & Conflict

It is great to join a new team when you have had education and training in leading teams.  Sitting back and recognizing what the team is doing even though they are unaware.  It can seem a little sinister or arrogant, but I enjoy taking a team through the stages of a team and making them a great team.  I am not what makes the team great; the team is what makes the team great.

Currently, I’m in charge of a team that has made getting along with one another a priority over everything else.  The team believes they are respectful and that they are a well-functioning team because of how well they get along. It was comical seeing the looks on all their faces when I told them they were a dysfunctional team and had not even started to perform as a team. Looks of skepticism, annoyance, and shock were all around.  I explained to them that it was perfectly reasonable and we would work on it.  They were not satisfied with that answer, so I told them “We need to be deliberate about creating trust and conflict.  We cannot be so worried about upsetting each other that it costs us growth, improvement, and team progress.”  Now I have their attention, and they ask, “So what do we do?”  “We create trust and conflict!”

Creating trust and conflict happens mostly at the same time.  Creating trust is easier than it may seem, but is hard if you are not deliberate in your attempt to create it.  The best way to build trust is to be truthful.  Many confuse this with the brutal truth or saying everything just because it is true.  You wouldn’t, or shouldn’t tell your mom her new haircut is bad, so don’t say it to your employees.  Follow through is a great way to build trust.  Saying you will do something and then actually doing it is very powerful.  On the other side of this is not following through.  Doing so will ruin the trust you have gained in an instant.  For those times when you can’t follow through on your words, be honest about it and own it.  Making excuses for your failure might make you feel better, but your people will see right through it, and this will further damage your relationship and reputation.

Create conflict. Creating conflict on purpose sounds counter-intuitive and can be tricky.  Most people/teams/organizations practice conflict- avoidance not conflict-management.  The key is to stop being so nice that you cannot tell someone when they are doing a bad job.  Like I described with my team above, everyone was so worried about avoiding conflict that they accepted mistakes and mediocre work.  I had to force some members of the team to see the harm it was causing the team.  I gave them clear directions on what questions to ask the rest of the team and coached them on how to handle the various answers.

The conflict came quickly, and the team is still working on trusting each other.  We have meetings scheduled, and over the course of the next few months, the team members will get to practice on how to be vulnerable with the team and receive constructive criticism.  I’m excited to lead their progress!

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2 Weeks Ago…I Made a Mistake

I implemented a stupid policy.  In my defense, the intent was to help my managers better plan their days, weeks, months, etc., but it ended up just wasting time.  I had discovered the managers were not very deliberate with their time and there was confusion among the workers.  To help them, each morning I asked the lead to sit with me and go through their plan for the day.  Yes, it is micro-management, but it was designed to be so I could teach them.  Plus, I had a deliberate plan to pull back once I started to see the results I had envisioned and allow even more autonomy than before.

Making a mistake, when we do it, can be one of the hardest things to admit.  But when leaders admit to mistakes it can keep us all from making more errors in the future or at least help keep us humble.  More than anything owning up to a fault will build trust between you and your people.

I’m sure many of you have drilled holes in my plan and have already guessed what the result was.  But for those who have not, it did not go well.  The managers did not plan better, they did not organize their people better, and it did not help them implement actions to better align them with the organizational vision I have established. What my decision did do was force the manager to prepare for the meeting with me instead of making sure their supervisors were given proper directions.  They were spending too much time worrying about how favorable I would judge their plans, and their focus shifted to pleasing me instead of focusing on their people and the organization’s operational needs.

Once I realized the decision did not have the desired effect, I put a stop to it.  And here is the important part.  Instead of telling the managers I saw what I needed to see and they had improved, that they were now organized like I wanted them to be and my idea (like all my ideas) was brilliant, and it worked just like I expected it would, I told them the truth.  Although the idea was an attempt to improve performance and my intentions were good.  The effects of this policy were mostly negative, and even the positive effects were small and insignificant.  In this case, the juice was not worth the squeeze.

Instead of forcing the managers to come to me and be scrutinized about their plans, I go to them.  I observe their operations more and engage them in discussions that are as non-threatening as I can make them.  The intent is still to teach and make things better.  There are drawbacks to this approach, but the manager’s people appreciate a leader that takes an interest in their daily lives and the managers know I’m right there if they need clarification or guidance.  I still get to hear about their plans and how their plans support the organizational vision, but we are much more agile because we have these conversations in real-time.  Everyone has a preference for how they lead, but admitting to mistakes is great.  Your people will not lose confidence in you over a few mistakes.  But if you are making many mistakes they will, and rightfully so.

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